Human Trafficking:

A Strategic Framework Could Help Enhance the Interagency Collaboration Needed to Effectively Combat Trafficking Crimes

GAO-07-915: Published: Jul 26, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 2007.

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Human trafficking is a transnational crime whose victims include men, women, and children and may involve violations of labor, immigration, antislavery, and other criminal laws. To ensure punishment of traffickers and protection of victims, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), which is subject to reauthorization in 2007. The Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) lead federal investigations and prosecutions of trafficking crimes. As requested, this report discusses (1) key activities federal agencies have undertaken to combat human trafficking crimes, (2) federal efforts to coordinate investigations and prosecutions of these crimes, and (3) how the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) supported federally funded state and local human trafficking task forces. GAO reviewed strategies, reports, and other agency documents; analyzed trafficking data; and interviewed agency officials and task force members.

Since the enactment of the TVPA in 2000, federal agencies have (1) investigated allegations of trafficking crimes, leading to 139 prosecutions;(2) provided training and implemented state and local initiatives to support investigations and prosecutions; and (3) established organizational structures, agency-level goals, plans, or strategies. For example, agencies have trained new and current personnel on investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons crimes through their agency training academies and centers, provided Web-based training, and developed and disseminated guidance on case pursuance. Agencies have also sponsored outreach and training to state and local law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations, and the general public through a toll-free complaint line, newsletters, national conferences, and model legislation. Finally, some agencies have established special units or plans for carrying out their antitrafficking duties. Federal agencies have coordinated across agencies on investigations and prosecutions of trafficking crimes on a case-by-case basis, determined by individual case needs, and established relationships among law enforcement officials across agencies. For example, several federal agencies worked together to resolve a landmark trafficking case involving over 250 victims. However, DOJ and DHS officials have identified the need to advance and expand U.S. efforts to combat trafficking through more collaborative and proactive strategies to identify trafficking victims. Prior GAO work on interagency collaboration has shown that a strategic framework that includes, among other things, a common outcome, mutually reinforcing strategies, and compatible polices and procedures to operate across agency boundaries can help enhance and sustain collaboration among federal agencies dealing with issues that are national in scope and cross agency jurisdictions. To support U.S. efforts to investigate trafficking in persons, BJA has awarded grants of up to $450,000 to establish 42 state and local human trafficking law enforcement task forces. BJA has funded the development of a train-the-trainer curriculum and a national conference on human trafficking and taken further steps to respond to task force technical assistance needs. Nevertheless, task force members from the seven task forces we contacted and DOJ officials identified continued and additional assistance needs. BJA does not have a technical assistance plan for its human trafficking task force grant program. Prior GAO work has shown the need for agencies that administer grants or funding to state and local entities to implement a plan to focus technical assistance on areas of greatest need. BJA officials said they were preparing a plan to provide additional and proactive technical assistance to the task forces, but as of June 2007 had not received the necessary approvals.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on actions taken by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes, including coordinating with the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Labor (DOL), and State, among others. We found that federal agencies coordinated successfully on individual cases of human trafficking. However, senior agency officials also identified the need for additional proactive approaches (e.g., expanding outreach to additional law enforcement agencies and nongovernmental organizations and pursuing multijurisdictional and international trafficking investigations and prosecutions), requiring strategic collaboration among agencies, to enhance agency efforts to investigate and prosecute these crimes. Accordingly, we recommended that the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), in conjunction with the Secretaries of Labor, State, and other agency heads deemed appropriate, develop and implement a strategic framework to coordinate U.S. efforts to address these crimes to ensure that the U.S. government maximized its ability to enforce the laws governing trafficking in persons. Subsequently, DOJ has undertaken or participated in initiatives, indicative of a strategic approach, to enhance U.S. efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes. According to DOJ-provided documentation, DOJ spearheads a federal law enforcement working group on human trafficking, which includes the FBI, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DHS, and DOL. DOJ has led or participated in interagency training efforts for Assistant U.S. Attorneys, agents, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations; worked with DHS to rollout the local law enforcement curriculum for its "Blue Campaign"; coordinated with the Department of Human Services and DHS on the interagency Minor Victims Working Group, which helps agencies overcome unique challenges presented by unaccompanied foreign minors caught in human trafficking investigations; and participated in meetings on DOL's guest worker program to identify trafficking victims. DOJ and DHS have also worked with the Mexican government on prosecutions of sex traffickers in the United States and Mexico. In October 2010, DOJ established the Interagency Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative to enhance coordination among the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Attorney's Offices, and DOJ's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. Subsequently, in February 2011, DOJ, DHS, and DOL launched an interagency human trafficking enhanced enforcement initiative. In Phase I, specialized ACTeams, composed of prosecutors and agents from multiple federal enforcement agencies, convene in select pilot districts around the country to implement a strategic action plan to combat identified human trafficking threats. Developed through DOJ, DHS, and DOL interagency collaboration to streamline rapidly expanding federal human trafficking efforts, the ACTeam structure is to enhance coordination among federal prosecutors and agents on the front lines of federal human trafficking investigations and prosecutions and between front-line enforcement efforts and the specialized units at DOJ and federal agency headquarters. The agencies also published a 2011 ACTeam field operations guide. In October 2010, the head of DOJ's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit told us that GAO's 2007 recommendation directing DOJ to work with DHS to develop a strategic approach to human trafficking investigations and prosecutions was part of the groundswell that helped the DOJ/DHS prosecutors and investigators convince their respective leadership of the need for these initiatives. The actions taken by DOJ in partnership with other federal agencies, to enhance interagency coordination to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes, are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the U.S. government maximizes its ability to enforce laws governing trafficking in persons, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in conjunction with the Secretaries of Labor, State, and other agency heads deemed appropriate, develop and implement a strategic framework to coordinate U.S. efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking in persons. At a minimum this framework should define and articulate a common outcome; establish mutually reinforcing or joint strategies; agree on roles and responsibilities; and establish compatible policies, procedures, and other means to operate across agency boundaries.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on the actions taken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), especially Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to investigate human trafficking crimes, including coordinating with the Departments of Justice (DOJ), Labor (DOL), and State. We found that federal agencies coordinated successfully on individual cases of human trafficking. However, senior agency officials also identified the need for additional proactive approaches (e.g., expanding outreach to additional law enforcement agencies and nongovernmental organizations and pursuing multijurisdictional and international trafficking investigations and prosecutions), requiring strategic collaboration among agencies, to enhance agency efforts to investigate and prosecute these crimes. Accordingly, we recommended that the Attorney General and the Secretary of DHS, in conjunction with the Secretaries of Labor, State, and other agency heads deemed appropriate, develop and implement a strategic framework to coordinate U.S. efforts to address these crimes to ensure that the U.S. government maximized its ability to enforce the laws governing trafficking in persons. Subsequently, DHS/ICE has initiated or participated in initiatives, indicative of a strategic approach, to enhance U.S. efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes. DHS/ICE developed a form, which its field offices use to notify DOJ of ICE human trafficking investigations; launched the "Blue Campaign," which includes new web-based training for law enforcement officers, enhanced resources for trafficking victims, and expanded public awareness campaigns; and sponsored and participated in interagency human trafficking training efforts for federal, state, and local law enforcement and service providers. ICE also participates in a federal law enforcement working group on human trafficking, spearheaded by DOJ and including FBI, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, and DOL and works with DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services on the interagency Minor Victims Working Group, which exists to help agencies overcome the unique challenges presented by unaccompanied foreign minors caught in human trafficking investigations. Additionally, in February 2011, DHS, DOJ, and DOL launched an interagency human trafficking enhanced enforcement initiative, implementing the Interagency Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative. In Phase I, specialized ACTeams, composed of prosecutors and agents from multiple federal enforcement agencies, convene in select pilot districts around the country to implement a strategic action plan to combat identified human trafficking threats. Developed through DOJ, DHS, and DOL interagency collaboration to streamline rapidly expanding federal human trafficking efforts, the ACTeam structure is to enhance coordination among federal prosecutors and agents on the front lines of federal human trafficking investigations and prosecutions and between front-line enforcement efforts and the specialized units at DOJ and federal agency headquarters. The agencies also published a 2011 ACTeam field operations guide. In a November 2010 meeting, ICE officials told us that the GAO recommendation had provided the impetus and helped the agencies involved in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking offenses, including ICE, to focus and thereby enhance their efforts to address this problem. The actions taken by DHS in partnership with other federal agencies, to enhance interagency coordination to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes, are consistent with our recommendation

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the U.S. government maximizes its ability to enforce laws governing trafficking in persons, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in conjunction with the Secretaries of Labor, State, and other agency heads deemed appropriate, develop and implement a strategic framework to coordinate U.S. efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking in persons. At a minimum this framework should define and articulate a common outcome; establish mutually reinforcing or joint strategies; agree on roles and responsibilities; and establish compatible policies, procedures, and other means to operate across agency boundaries.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on how the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) supported federally funded state and local human trafficking task forces and whether these efforts might be improved. We found that although BJA reported taking steps to help it respond to the technical assistance needs of these task forces, DOJ officials and task force members pointed to continued and additional technical assistance and training needs. Moreover, while recognizing the need for a technical assistance plan to address these needs, BJA did not have such a plan in place at the time of our review. Accordingly, we recommended that the Attorney General direct the Director of BJA to develop and implement a plan to help focus technical assistance on areas of greatest need to better support the federally funded state and local human trafficking task forces. Subsequently, the Office of Victims of Crime (OVC), Office of Justice Programs, which is the funding source for the technical assistance for the BJA anti-trafficking law enforcement task forces, provided funds to the Training and Technical Assistance Center to implement the report findings of the BJA and OVC federal working group on training and technical assistance for anti-trafficking task forces. In August 2009, the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent us a copy of the OVC/BJA final work plan for comprehensive training and technical assistance to BJA anti-trafficking law enforcement task forces and OVC trafficking victim service providers, developed to implement the findings of the working group and in connection with our recommendation on the BJA task forces. In response to our request for further documentation showing that DOJ had implemented the work plan, DOJ provided a summary of the actions that the joint BJA and OVC Training and Technical Assistance Center had completed in accordance with the work plan, as of September 2009. The work plan and the actions taken to implement the plan are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better support the federally funded state and local human trafficking task forces, the Attorney General should direct the Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance to develop and implement a plan to help focus technical assistance on areas of greatest need.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General

 

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